FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Terry L. Styer
Chief Clerk, County of Berks
BERKS COUNTY HIRES AGRICULTURAL COORDINATOR
READING --- The Berks County Commissioners have taken action to assure the economic future of agriculture, the leading industry in their county, by hiring an agricultural coordinator. According to Commissioner Chair Judith Schwank, this may be the first position of its kind in the Commonwealth.
The creation of an agricultural coordinator position was part of a list of recommendations resulting from a study on the future of farming in Berks County conducted by the American Farmland Trust in 2006. A group of volunteers worked on a proposal to the County Commissioners which outlined the role a future agricultural coordinator could play in assisting the farm community to flourish economically.
Commissioner Schwank, along with her colleagues Thomas Gajewski and Mark Scott, formally approved the creation of this position last December. Their goal is to have this person promote agricultural business development and market the agricultural industry and agriculturally-related businesses in Berks County.
Filling the new job is former Pennsylvania State Representative Sheila Miller, who retired from the legislature last year. She was hired from a field of more than twenty candidates who applied for the agricultural coordinator position in May and went through the interview process during the summer months.
“I am thrilled that Sheila has agreed to become our first agricultural coordinator,” said Commissioner Mark C. Scott. “She brings a broad array of experience and talent to this important new position and will surely be embraced by the farm community of which she is a vital advocate with great enthusiasm.
Miller served as vice chairman of the Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and chaired the Center for Rural Pennsylvania during fourteen year tenure in the legislature. She and her husband, Michael, own and operate a purebred beef cattle farm in Tulpehocken Township, Berks County. Miller, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Penn State in 1974, has always been involved in agriculture. She grew up on a commercial beef farm in Dauphin County and worked for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service after her college graduation. She moved on to the editor’s position with Lancaster Farming newspaper before becoming the executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in 1983. She was elected to the House in 1992.
“I am looking forward to the challenges that this position brings with it,” commented Miller. “We are fortunate to have a strong agricultural industry in Berks County, but we face many crossroads in the future. I want to help our farmers choose the right direction in order to keep our fertile land in the business of producing food. Agriculture is an industry that every person depends on each day of their lives. Since there are fewer people in the business of raising the food people need, it is up to us to provide the support farmers need to keep doing their jobs.”
Miller commented that one of her first jobs will be to determine where Berks County’s agricultural industry is today, in order to measure changes in the future. “We need a baseline to know if we are making progress or falling behind,” she said. She will be working with other economic development experts and government agencies to advocate for Berks County’s agriculture industry. “We want to make sure everyone knows Berks County has an open invitation to farmers and food processors to come grow with us,” she said. “At the same time, we want to keep our existing agri-businesses thriving.”
This month Berks County celebrated more than 50,000 acres of preserved farmland with nearly 500 farms permanently protected from housing or industrial development. “We are gratified that our farmers have voluntarily stepped forward to preserve their land for future generations,” commented Schwank. “By creating the agricultural coordinator position, we want to make sure our future farmers have not only the natural resources they need to raise crops and livestock, but also the economic resources needed to continue Berks County’s leadership position in many areas of food production.”
Commissioner Gajewski said that “adding this position is further demonstration of our commitment to keeping Agriculture the number one industry in Berks County. Mrs. Miller’s vast experience on agricultural issues, will give her a running start for the position.”